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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Beyond the Headlines

Air Date: Week of

A solar project in Archer, Florida is causing an environmental justice conflict between residents and the Alachua Board of County Commissioners. (Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

On this week's trip Beyond the Headlines, Environmental Health News editor Peter Dykstra joins Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb to talk about some unexpected opposition to a solar facility in Florida, and in the Mojave desert, efforts to prevent a solar project there from harming the sensitive desert tortoise. Finally, celebrate a moment in history as the pair remember the million-dollar settlement in a fight for clean water that inspired the box office hit “Erin Brockovich”.


CURWOOD: It’s time for a trip Beyond the Headlines with Peter Dykstra. Peter is an editor with Environmental Health News, that’s ehn.org and dailyclimate.org. He spoke with Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb.

BASCOMB: Hey there, Peter, what do you have for us this week?

DYKSTRA: Well, hi, Bobby a couple of stories about solar energy running into opposition in unexpected places. The first one is a northern Florida town near Gainesville, and the University of Florida. The town of Archer is a historically black community with a cemetery that dates back to the 1830s. They're about to become neighbors with a solar facility that, they feel, would disrupt the historic nature of the town and the cemetery. They're dead set against it. It's a conflict between environmental justice and clean energy that's kind of unexpected.

BASCOMB: Well, that is unexpected and of course, the Biden administration has made both those things really important goals: clean energy and getting to net zero emissions in the next couple decades, as well as environmental justice. You know, not making minority communities bear more of the burden than they already have in the past. That's a tough one, huh?

With the desert tortoise already listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act, the development of solar panels may further disrupt their home in the desert lands of Southern California. Researchers also fear that the desert ecosystem may not make a speedy recovery from a large-scale construction. (Photo: Melissa Delzio, Flickr, CC BY NC 2.0)

DYKSTRA: Yes, it is a tough one. And here's another tough one. It's a project in the desert outside Las Vegas. It's a massive solar project proposed to be the largest in the nation. It would power 400,000 homes in the growing Las Vegas metropolitan area. But there's a conflict with an endangered animal, the Mojave Desert Tortoise that migrates through the area -- 7,100 acres. There is some concern that solar powers and particularly the construction is going to disrupt this animal that's already in trouble.

BASCOMB: Well, that's the thing. Of course, solar panels aren't the only thing that come along with solar energy, you have to have roads and the transmission infrastructure. There's a lot there, if you're talking about a really sensitive habitat for an endangered species.

DYKSTRA: That's right. And the Bureau of Land Management is looking at a scheme where they relocate the Mojave Desert Tortoise for the year or so while the solar farm is being built. Then put them back in place and hope for the best with both the solar panels and the tortoise as a part of the landscape outside Vegas.

BASCOMB: Hmm, well, I guess it's good that they're thinking proactively about that. You use the word scheme that seems you know, kind of dicey to pull off successfully. Maybe.

DYKSTRA: It's a believe it when you see it kind of thing. And of course, you know, how desert tortoises migrate?

Erin Brokovich is an American legal clerk, consumer advocate and environmental activist who was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in in 1993 after the company dumped 370 million gallons of chromium-tainted wastewater into unlined spreading ponds around the town of Hinkley, California. (Photo: Eva Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

BASCOMB: I don't think I do.

DYKSTRA: Very slowly.

BASCOMB: Ah, ba dum bum. Well, what do you have for us from the history books this week?

DYKSTRA: June 12, 1996 is the 25th anniversary of an agreement in which PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) says they'll pay $333 million to settle a pollution suit in the town of Hinkley, California. This was all the setting for a movie a few years later, called "Erin Brockovich," in which Julia Roberts played the heroine of the film, a legal worker named Erin Brockovich, got that settlement. The movie came out in 2000. It was a box office hit. And Erin Brockovich has continued to work for the good of polluted towns and polluted people throughout, not just California, but throughout the country.

BASCOMB: Yeah, she's really become a household name.

DYKSTRA: That's correct.

CURWOOD: Peter Dykstra is an editor with Environmental Health News, that’s ehn.org and dailyclimate.org. He was speaking with Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb.
For more details on these stories please go to the Living on Earth web page, loe.org.



Read more about the “environmental racism” occurring in Archer, FL

How solar panels can affect the desert ecosystem

Learn more about the toxic contamination in Hinkley, California


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